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Forest in UAS area falls prey to development plan

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Destruction: Part of the Kodegahalli forest within the University of Agricultural Sciences area that has been cleared.
Destruction: Part of the Kodegahalli forest within the University of Agricultural Sciences area that has been cleared.

Divya Gandhi and Deepa Kurup

It is being cleared to create a new venue for the Krishi Mela and for setting up research laboratories

BANGALORE: One of Bangalore’s last remaining refuges of rare wildlife may now be on the verge of destruction. The Kodegahalli scrub forest within the University of Agricultural Sciences — habitat to creatures such as jungle cat, slender loris and jackal — is fast being cleared to make way for extensive development plans.Kodegahalli, the only significant patch of forest left on the UAS campus, is already half the size it was five years ago. Currently, 30 acres of shrubs, hedges and eucalyptus trees in this area are being cleared to create a new venue for the annual Krishi Mela and for research laboratories. Students and teachers are concerned that not enough is being done to protect this biodiversity.

While eucalyptus trees may not be of ecological value, naturalists say that shrubs are critical wildlife habitats. Studies have shown that the scrublands of UAS, comprising 530 plant species, support a large number of mammals, including the black-naped hare, wild boar, slender loris and jungle cat; and as many as 165 species of birds, including raptors such as honey buzzard and tawny eagle.

“This forest patch has shrunk from 330 acres in the 1960s, when it was handed over to the campus by the Forest Department, to less than 200 acres now. At this rate, everything will vanish in two years,” said a professor at UAS.

The 30 acres being cleared is only the latest patch to go at the 40-year-old university which has, in the last five years, seen unprecedented development and has many more plans lined up. A proposed Stem Cell Research Institute will occupy 10 acres, the Karnataka Remote Sensing Agency 20 acres and the Project Directorate for Biological Control 20 acres.

Between 50 to 60 acres will be cleared ostensibly for a crop husbandry course. All these sites, together with the 30 acres that have been cleared for a germplasm plantation, make up a total of 140 acres.

“Bettahalli, another 100-acre forest patch has been reduced to a few clumps of bamboo as the land has been used for agro-forestry experiments and bio-fuel plantation in the last two years,” according to the professor.

However, the Forest Department recently granted permission to clear these 30 acres for Krishi Mela and for the laboratories, UAS Vice-Chancellor P.G. Chengappa told The Hindu.

“We will not be felling any trees except eucalyptus, and only clearing the shrubs,” he pointed out.

Although shrubs may look dispensable, they are ecologically vital and provide habitat to a whole host of animals, birds and insects, said Ajith Kumar, director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies.

“For instance, nearly 130 species of butterfly have been documented in GKVK and these shrubs are where they breed. The university should deal with the issue (of development) with a little more sensitivity and try to retain the biodiversity,” he said.

A couple of years ago, a proposal to set up a bio-tech park on the UAS campus had sparked off protests from students, professors and scores of birdwatchers. Consequently, the proposal was stalled. “The bio-tech park proposal may have been stalled, but the institute’s growth is inevitable,” Prof. Chengappa pointed out.

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